OMB Guidelines on Social Media in the Public Sector

Social Media in the Public Sector

By John O’Leary, October 4, 2010, Governing Magazine

… As with any emerging technology in government, there are concerns, particularly around privacy and data security. The media is so new, no one really knows the rules yet. For example, if a public agency solicits ideas on a Facebook page, are the results subject to FOIA disclosures? Ironically, it turned out that the Paperwork Reduction Act had serious ramifications for the use of online media. The rules were based on an old technology (paper) and were producing confusion when applied to social media.

To clarify these issues, earlier this year the Office of Management and Budget provided guidance around the acceptable use and disclosure rules regarding social media. The NASCIO survey also noted that state government’s rules and policies really haven’t caught up with the use of social media: “[T]he survey in the aggregate documents a parallel lag between use and policy or governance mechanisms…”  …

For full text of the article, click here.


Office of Management and Budget


From: Cass Sunstein, Administrator, Office of Information and Regulatory Affiairs

Date: April 7, 2010

Subject: Social Media, Web-Based Interactive Technologies, and the Paperwork Reduction Act

On January 21, 2009, the President issued a memorandum calling for the establishment of “a system of transparency, public participation, and collaboration.” The memorandum required an Open Government Directive to be issued by the Director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), instructing “executive departments and agencies to take specific actions implementing the principles set forth in this memorandum.”

Implementing the President’s memorandum, OMB’s Open Government Directive requires a series of measures to promote the commitments to transparency, participation, and collaboration. Section 4 of the Directive specifically instructs the Administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) to “review existing OMB policies, such as Paperwork Reduction Act guidance and privacy guidance, to identify impediments to open government and to the use of new technologies and, where necessary, issue clarifying guidance and/or propose revisions to such policies, to promote greater openness in government.”

This Memorandum responds to that requirement. Animated by the goal of promoting flexible and open interactions between Federal agencies and the public, it clarifies when and how the Paperwork Reduction Act of 1995 (the PRA)1

To engage the public, Federal agencies are expanding their use of social media and web-based interactive technologies. For example, agencies are increasingly using web-based technologies, such as blogs, wikis, and social networks, as a means of “publishing” solicitations for public comment and for conducting virtual public meetings. This Memorandum explains that certain uses of social media and web-based interactive technologies will be treated as equivalent to activities that are currently excluded from the PRA.

Notably, OMB’s regulations implementing the PRA exclude facts or opinions provided in response to general solicitations published in the Federal Register or other publications. As agencies increasingly use web-based technologies as a means of “publishing” such solicitations, OMB believes that it is appropriate to exclude these activities as well. This Memorandum identifies a series of other activities that, consistent with the text and purposes of the PRA, OMB has determined may be excluded from its purview. Such activities include many uses of wikis, the posting of comments, the conduct of certain contests, and the rating and ranking of posts or comments by website users.

This Memorandum applies whether agency interactions are occurring on a .gov website or on a third-party platform. OMB continues to recommend that agency staff members, including web staff, consult with their Chief Information Officer, agency paperwork clearance officer, agency counsel, agency privacy officials, and OIRA to ensure that all relevant laws and policies are followed. …

For full text of the memo, click here.

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